What the Sheriff Thought He Saw

What the Sheriff Thought He Saw

A Chapter by Brandon Rowe

Prologue

What the Sheriff Thought He Saw


FIVE YEARS EARLIER

 

It was quiet shortly before midnight. And then the sky shattered.

               Violet lightning broke through the blackness, filling the sky with blinding light as the ray hung suspended in space. Then it fell, crackling across the sky to the city below in a matter of milliseconds. Stone met sky and locked, like two great armies slamming together on a strangely silent battlefield.

               The sky won, and thunder pierced the stillness like a battle cry. Stone groaned as it was pressed then crushed into the clockwork beneath. The purple lightning sliced through the ground like blades through paper, ripping up concrete as arcs of voltage searched hungrily for copper. Bursts of light jumped from building to building long after the lightning had disappeared from the sky.

               By the time the thunder had reached the outskirts of the city, flames were licking the street. Ten seconds passed and most of the peaceful silence had returned.

               The screams came soon after.

 

 

Trenton Dallernhodd, Sheriff of District Seven’s Enforcement, was having a cold glass of milk and staring out his apartment window when he saw the flash. He immediately knew what it was. He also knew that it was impossible. Dropping the half-full glass in the sink, he ran back into the bedroom where Rachel, his wife, was still sleeping. Not bothering with the gas lamps, he found his uniform in the darkness and began pulling it over his pajamas.

               “Terry…” a tired moan came from the bed, “What are you doing?”

               “I’m on duty, Rachel. I’ll be back by nine.” said Dallernhodd.

               “No, you’re not,” said Rachel suddenly, sitting up. “You got the day off tomorrow. We’re golfing with the McCollins, remember?”

               “Something’s come up,” Dallernhodd said, grunting as he pulled on his boots.

               “Oh, for the blazing Endlands Terry. Something always comes up and that something seems to always be more important than your wife!”

               “This is more important,” retorted Dallernhodd then immediately grimaced at how the words sounded. “I mean, this is more important than golfing. I �" ”

               “Tell me, Terry. Is there any moment in your soon to be shortened life that you feel like you can’t be the hero for one dusking day?” Her voice was quickly jumping in octaves. “You seem to be so willing to help any person in this city with any problem except for the person closest to you!”

               “Lives could be at stake, Rachel,” said Dallernhodd, gritting his teeth.

“I DON’T CARE IF THE ENTIRE DISTRICT TWELVE IS SINKING INTO THE OCEAN! I AM YOUR WIFE. YOU LISTEN TO WHAT I SAY, AND I SAY THAT WE ARE GOING GOLFING TOMOR �" ”

“Lightning,” said Dallernhodd.

“What?”

The thunder reached the apartment, an enormous bang followed by a rumble that made the windows rattle. Rachel nearly fell from the bed. Even Dallernhodd, who had been expecting it, flinched visibly.

“What?” she repeated, this time asking something entirely different. Her face, previously red with rage, had become very pale.

               “Lightning has struck the city. District Twelve, funnily enough �" if that makes you happy.” Dallernhodd pulled on his cloak and began buttoning up the front.

               “That’s impossible.” Rachel whispered.

               “Exactly. And you know I can’t let Sheriff Yeston handle this all by himself. You know as well as I do that he’d do the same for me.” Rachel didn’t respond so Dallernhodd slid his bluntsword into the scabbard on his back then opened a drawer and pulled out a revolver. He checked the chamber and safety �" twice as was customary �" before sliding it into the holster. He was about to leave when he hesitated then walked over to Rachel, embracing her from across the bed and kissing her gently on the forehead.

               “I’ll be back by nine.” He promised again. Rachel gave a weak nod and Dallernhodd breathed in deeply, smelling the sandalwood in her hair.

Before leaving the apartment, he checked his gun one last time and, after some thought, grabbed a dusty box of .40 caliber flameshard from a drawer. He had gotten the box his first year as an Enforcement officer with strict orders to keep it on his person at all times. Like everyone else he never did, simply because the chances of needing to use the bullet were zero.

               Taking the stairs three at a time to the first floor, Sheriff Dallernhodd realized that from now on he would have to expect the impossible. Indeed, the impossible had already happened:

For the first time in three hundred years, lightning had struck Newdawn.

               Dallernhodd left the building and let the door shut behind him. The weather was pleasant for August, a slight breeze bringing relief from the normally humid air. Even the smoke that blanketed the sky seemed less than usual, and a few stars blinked quietly in the gloom.

               The pleasantness disturbed Dallernhodd.  

Striding from the apartment, he noticed a saildrifter speeding down the track toward him. Thinking quickly, Dallernhodd stepped from the sidewalk onto the tracks. The sailor driving the vehicle cursed loudly before slamming the saildrifter to a halt, three feet away from Dallernhodd’s chest.

“What the hell, man?” The sailor said angrily. “Whaddaya tryin’ to do, get yourself killed ya slaggin’ �" ”

“Sheriff Dallernhodd, Enforcement, ” said Dallernhodd, flashing his badge in the amber streetlamp light. “I need a lift to District Twelve.”

“Ya kooks, man �" I aint goin’ there! What, with all the lightning rainin’ down?”

“A single bolt, yes.” Dallernhodd responded coolly. “Regardless, you’re taking me to District Twelve. Now.”

“Do I look like a taxi to you?”

“In times of crisis officers can take authorization of saildrifters if needed.”

“I’d rather be sent to the Endlands!”

“That can be arranged.”

“Let’s see you do that.”

Dallernhodd grabbed the man by his front collar, lifting him completely off his saildrifter. “Perhaps you don’t know me well, sailor,” he growled, “But I’m known as a man who keeps his word and I’m telling you now that if you don’t take me to District Twelve immediately, I swear I’ll have you exiled from this city ten hours from now. Now, think carefully. I need a lift to District Twelve… is that something you can give me?”

The sailor nodded. Dallernhodd set him down then climbed onto the saildrifter. He grasped two of the handholds on the mast and said, “Let’s be off then, sailor.”

The sailor glared at Dallernhodd, clearly annoyed at being ordered around on his own saildrifter. He clambered in behind Dallernhodd and propelled the saildrifter forward. In one clean movement the copper sail connected to the mast whipped around, nearly beheading the sheriff, then pulled the saildrifter behind it.

“Faster.” Dallernhodd said after a minute.

“This is the speed limit, sir.” The sailor responding, layering sarcasm onto the final word.

“I happen to care very little about the speed limit right now.” The sailor grunted but increased the speed. Sparks flew from the wheels as they charged down the tracks with buildings and streetlamps flying by in a dizzying blur.

Dallernhodd sighed. This was already proving to be a very exhausting evening. He sometimes wondered if he was getting too old for this job. Small tresses of grey had begun to appear in his mane of black and Rachel had started using them as a sort of countdown for retirement.

Releasing one hand from the mast, Dallernhodd reached into his cloak and pulled out a small silver purse held together by a clasp which he undid with some difficulty. The purse folded onto itself, clockwork clicking as each side of the purse formed wings. Two pre-wound Messengers �" clockwork devices that looked a bit like moths with small gems mounted where the head would be �" fluttered in front of him.

“Message for squad leaders four and six, District Seven Enforcement Office �" marked urgent,” Dallernhodd said with controlled alacrity. The small gems on the Messengers began to glow red.

“Begin message: This is Dallernhodd. Reinforcements needed in southside District Twelve. Prepare squads and four firedrifters immediately concluding this message. Lightning has struck Newdawn. Approach with utmost caution. End message.” As soon as he finished the two Messengers took off into the night and were quickly left behind by the saildrifter.

Dallernhodd tried to relax by leaning back slightly on the mast but it didn’t seem to help. He realized that his eyes were scanning the dark buildings as they passed, and he looked away feeling annoyed. Paranoia was distracting to the job and he couldn’t let it interfere. Lightning had struck, yes. That was impossible in Newdawn, but it didn’t mean something worse was coming. It didn’t mean that the world was ending.

As the saildrifter entered District Twelve, Dallernhodd for a moment thought that he heard a distant inhuman scream.

Was that a… no. Focus.

“Head towards that smoke, from the western side since that would be the route the firedrifters will take.” Dallernhodd said, pointing toward a billowing column that was creeping above the high-rises, some of the tallest buildings in the city.

The copper sail shifted to the left, leading the saildrifter off the main track to the one leading in that direction. By now, Dallernhodd could smell the smoke, could see the ash falling softly in the dark like snowflakes.

The sailor had turned into several intersections�"keeping the saildrifter westward as they approached the flames�"when Dallernhodd saw District Twelve’s several large firedrifters at the end of the street. The saildrifter looked tiny next to the massive vehicles; blazing red, carrying large tanks of water with sails illustrated with the enforcement insignia.

Dallernhodd had the sailor stop the saildrifter and got off on the sidewalk. He turned and offered his hand to sailor.

“Thank you for your cooperation. We need more men like you.” In the dark, Dallernhodd thought he saw the man roll his eyes but he shook the Sheriff’s hand before reversing the saildrifter and disappearing into the night.

Falling into a brisk stride, Dallernhodd made his way down the street, his cloak billowing out behind him. He passed through the large firedrifters, observing the streams of water that were flowing from the tanks and into the air, like thin ribbons of steam. Aquamasters.

“You there!” Dallernhodd turned to see two officers in grey uniform, probably assigned to guard the firedrifters, approaching. The speaking officer raised his bluntsword threateningly. “Return to your home. This is no place to be wandering right now.”

“Stand down officer. I’m Sheriff Dallernhodd of District Seven, here to offer my assistance. Four of my firedrifters should be on their way here as well.”

The officer relaxed and slid the bluntsword back into his scabbard.

“Do you know where I might find Sheriff Yeston?” Dallernhodd asked

“He’s leading a squad further down the street where most of the fires have already been put out, sir,” said the other officer. “I believe if you follow the water leading from the tank over there you’ll find him easily.”

“Thank you, officer.” Dallernhodd said, noting the tank.

The officer saluted Dallernhodd before adding, “Sir, the support of some of these buildings have burned away completely so they may collapse. Be cautious, sir.”

Dallernhodd nodded and began walking further down the street, keeping an eye on the strand of water, hovering above his head and occasionally surging in a bubbling spray. By now, the putrid smoke was becoming slightly overwhelming and he pulled up the collar of his cloak to cover his face. His charcoal boots plowed through the smoke that had settled in the dismal street, like fog with swirling flakes of ash.

Reaching a soot-covered sign reading Milsood, Dallernhodd turned onto the next street.

He was met by devastation.

Dallernhodd felt a strange emotion rise within him as he surveyed what had once been a street. The road paved with cobblestones now looked like someone what taken an axe to a jigsaw puzzle, the concrete fractured in the shockwave of the strike. Streetlamps stood crookedly in their bases, fumes of gas leaking into the already smoky air. The copper framework was all that was left of some buildings �" the brick having crumbled in the impact �" the twisted metal jetting into the sky like skeletons.

Small patches of flame lit the scene, glimmering off the streams of floating water.

“Endlands desolation…” Dallernhodd whispered hoarsely. He stepped onto the broken street then hesitated. He lowered his arm and undid the strap on his holster before wrapping his fingers around the revolver. The cold metal on his skin gave him a small flare of courage to step into what looked like the Endlands themselves. He kept walking, keeping his hands on the gun without removing it.

 Thank honor that lightning didn’t strike a populated area, the Sheriff thought as he passed the smoldering ruins of what he guessed, based on the smell, was once a butcher shop. No one could have survived this.

After following the streams of water for what seemed like hours, Dallernhodd found several squads advancing upon the flames. Most of the officers were clearing the wreckage from the street, clearing a safe path while also searching for valuables and survivors.

The officers in blue and silver uniform, the Aquamasters, stood in a semi-circle before the fire. Surrounding them was a ring of clear water, dipping and swirling in the smoky air. Three jets streamed from the ring onto the fires of various buildings, extinguishing the flames before moving on down the street.

“What a terrible beauty of a mess it is, aint it?”

Dallernhodd started at the gruff voice. He turned to find a round man in green uniform standing next to him. His eyes, hidden behind a large, well-groomed mustache and ruddy cheeks, glinted in the firelight.

“Sheriff Yeston �" it’s been too long!” proclaimed Dallernhodd, grasping the man’s hand in a firm shake.

“I agree full heartedly Terry,” Sheriff Yeston said. “I’ve found that being Sheriff can drain a man’s time faster than a flea drains a hound’s blood.”

“The last time we spoke I believe was at that convention.”

“Indeed. You an’ Rachel, both of yeh should come by my home in Gornloth Street. My wife makes the most excellent tea!”

“Your wife makes terrible tea.”

“Not since we started buyin’ our leaves from this man Klieg. A complete slag but he grows excellent tea leaves. Knowin’ him though, he probably laces his leaves in shadichor. Probably what makes the tea so duskin’ good.” Sheriff Yeston added, guffawing in loud bursts.

Dallernhodd chuckled but even as he did he felt his cheery mood slip away. Sheriff Yeston seemed to sense it and he turned to face the dismal scene.

“To think though…” Sheriff Yeston said fervently, “That we might be the first Newdawnians �" first in nearly three hundr’d years �" to see the great devastation a lightnin’ bolt can cause.”

Dallernhodd, silently observing the street before him suddenly gave a start, a realization dawning on him. He had been looking at an enormous crater, almost eight feet in length, stretched across the street like a twisting scar. The place where the lightning had struck.

Disbelief was etched into the sheriff’s face as he approached cautiously, leaving footprints in powdery black sand that had once been cobblestone. On the sides of the crater two sets of copper tracks were sliced completely apart, twisted and pulled from the street like shoelaces.

Crouching down and peering into the crater, Dallernhodd saw the clockwork had fused together, forming lumps of streaked copper. The streaks were jagged, imprints of arced electricity.

“One bolt of lightning…” Dallernhodd muttered, “Managed to do all this.” He stood up and walked back from the crater. Sheriff Yeston had lit a cigar and was puffing away at it. As if there wasn’t enough smoke in the air to breathe in. Dallernhodd didn’t comment on that though and continued to stare into the fires.

“None of this makes any sense.” he said, brow furrowed in thought.

Sheriff Yeston laughed at that, smoke bursting from his mouth. “Well, I’d sure hope not. Not unless you’ve seen any lightnin’ strikes in Newdawn that I’m not aware of!”

“It’s not just where the lightning strike happened,” said Dallernhodd, frowning, “It’s how it happened. What kind of storm has only one bolt of lightning? Lightning that doesn’t strike at the tallest building in this city or any building, but instead strikes in the middle of a street? And do you see a storm, Yeston? There’s barely a breeze!”

               Sheriff Yeston chewed quietly on his cigar. Dallernhodd continued.

               “What we need is witnesses �" people that saw the strike happen up close. Maybe they can tell us where they saw it come from. I’ll send an appeal to Dynast Jen Orphileaus to allow Enforcement to conduct a large-scale Messaging. That way �" ”

               “Before you arrived,” Sheriff Yeston interrupted, “One of my squads found two people �" this man an’ woman �" in a buildin’ that had survived the strike.”

Dallernhodd stopped mid-sentence, mouth gaping slightly. The mustached sheriff sighed, removing the cigar from his mouth before turning to look at Dallernhodd.

“We haven’ identified them yet �" I had some of my men drift the poor girl to the hospital. Incredibly, she seemed unharm’d by the strike but acted like all the voltage had gone to her brain. Screechin’ like the Shadows themselves when we found her.”

That scream I heard earlier… “I need to question her,” Dallernhodd said. “Perhaps not tonight but as soon as possible… and the man?”

Sheriff Yeston’s face made clear what Dallernhodd had already guessed. The man had not survived.

“Which building?” Dallernhodd asked, pushing the bleak thought aside.

Without looking, Sheriff Yeston pointed to a structure across the street, a building that was strangely rounded and shorter than the other high-rises.

“It’s an odd structure �" no wood, just mostly stone an’ copper,” Sheriff Yeston said. One of my squad leaders tells me it’s a library of some sort though I wouldn’ know. Never been on this side of the District.”

Sheriff Yeston continued speaking but Dallernhodd didn’t hear him. His gaze was focused on the library, illuminated by a small pool of gas leaking from a streetlamp that had caught on fire.

Beyond the flames, a form cloaked in darkness stood facing the library.

Dallernhodd watched, silent, not wanting to point it out since he didn’t know what it was anyway. The form was tall, well built with arms hanging stiffly at the sides. It wore what appeared to be a black robe that reached down to his feet. The person �" or whatever it  was �" looked oddly disformed to Dallernhodd. Like a shadow against a wall, bending against the uneven surfaces and fuzzed on the edges.

Suddenly, the strange figure turned as if sensing Dallernhodd’s gaze, smoke swirling from beneath its robes. Despite the glow from the flames, the face was a mask of darkness, hiding everything except the eyes �" one eye.

Except there was no eye. In its place, something that glowed a blazing red, like a coal branded into the socket, stared unblinking into Dallernhodd.

And then it was gone.

“ �" they believe that the copper siding somehow acted as a conductor, protectin’ the building from the strike though it could be somethin’ entirely different. I must remember to employ some builders to inspect the building, see if they can find anything of interest.”

“Sounds good,” said Dallernhodd, somehow finding his voice. “Er… Yeston, before arriving here I Messaged my squads stationed back at District Seven �" had them bring some firedrifters. Hopefully they’d be arriving about now, so I’ll head back and bring the drifters round to the other side of the flames  and have my squads advance from there.”

“Good thinking,” Sheriff Yeston agreed, clapping him on the shoulder. “I’d better get back to my own squads then. I’ll see you later �" tea in Gornloth!”

Dallernhodd nodded and Sheriff Yeston clapped him on the shoulder again before jogging to catch up with the squads. Dallernhodd turned, walking a few paces in the direction where he’d come then crossed the street towards the library.

Crackling flames and footsteps seemed to echo as approached, revolver in hand. He carefully stepped around the fire licking the spilled gas and came to a standstill. Smoke, ash, and fallen brick encumbered the ten feet between him and the building �" no dark-cloaked figure.

An illusion, nothing more. Dallernhodd told himself, observing how his shadow formed by the blaze behind him looked… similar to the thing he thought he had seen. With some self-inflicted ridicule, he slid the revolver back into the holster, strapping it in place before hurrying on his way, boots striking smartly against the cobblestone.

Before leaving the street, the aging sheriff paused and looked back, his eyes cold against the amber blight of fire before closing them in a simple prayer.

May the Clockmaker preserve us, he thought then left the scene behind him.


 



© 2018 Brandon Rowe


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I read your work. Honestly, i kinda like it since i love reading books and all. My imagination cme alive. And i agree it is entertaining... I'll be waiting for the next chapter.. Keep up the good work..

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Added on September 6, 2018
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Brandon Rowe
Brandon Rowe

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I wrote a novel but I want to know what the public thinks. This will probably have a few select chapters. It won't be long and I promise it will be entertaining. Tell me what you honestly think. Thank.. more..

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